A Detailed Guide to Ice in Black Rock City

BLACK ROCK DESERT, Nevada – It’s not easy living in a makeshift temporary desert town practically overnight in a place where prehistoric lake water dried up thousands of years ago and where hot dust covers everything.

In Burning Man, where discomfort comes and goes in waves of heat and wind, the Burners cling to certain comforts of the default world they left behind.

There is no running water. No electricity. No permanent plumbing. At Burning Man, this equipment must be built by the Burners themselves.

While cash is generally no good here, there is one luxury that can be bought with cash and ringing: ice, the frozen gold of the playa.

Five dollars for blocks, ten dollars for bags.

Not everyone brings a cooler here to store food and drinks that need to be refrigerated. But for many Burners, the camp cooler is essential.

After a week in Black Rock City, here’s what we learned about playa ice.

At Burning Man, cooler water can be disposed of with a watering can, but you can get creative with your creations.

You will enjoy ice cream more

With temperatures hovering in the 90s, sometimes reaching 100, the Black Rock Desert is an unforgiving landscape, prone to dust storms that clog eye sockets, nasal passages and lungs.

The constant supply of liquids is vital – and quite refreshing if those liquids are cold. A sturdy cooler filled with fresh ice makes this possible.

Take a peek in the camp mates coolers and you’ll find all kinds of drinks: beer, seltzer water, juice, champagne, pop, cold beer, Gatorade, Red Bull, boxed wine.

But a large supply of playa drinks requires a constant change of ice and a bit of planning.

Ice is sold daily

There are three places where Burners can buy ice cream, open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Because ice is in high demand, planning ice races is important. Most Burners get ice for their own coolers, but other camps choose a runner each day to collect frozen gold for all the townspeople.

There will be a line, but you will meet people

The Ice Line is a great place to meet friends, catch jokes and stories, or just observe the other residents of Black Rock City.

Depending on what time you queue, you can wait anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour for refueling. Time slows down here, making ice racing a good opportunity to check out playa fashion or strike up a conversation.

But beware: not all Burners like ice tracks. You’ll inevitably run into some neighbors who aren’t in the mood to talk who consider ice tracks nothing more than a boring chore.

Beware of ice cream scammers

Hike on the ice will reveal that even Burning Man isn’t free of hustlers trying to further trivialize the ice situation and make a few bucks out of impatience and discomfort.

“Bags of ice!” howl the scammers. “Fifteen dollars!”

Some burners will jump at the chance to step out of line and return to camp as speedy ice heroes – even if it means acquiescing in a five dollar markup.

There are refreshments for those who wait

The first is an ice bag passed from the ice tent and through the line until the bag is empty. Burners tend to break off a piece to suck on or dab on their neck, forehead, and chest for quick relief.

At the front of the line, a volunteer greets each ice-seeking burner with a spray bottle fitted with a motorized fan, soothing faces and scalps with a cool mist.

Be prepared for transportation

There are a few modes of transporting ice.

Handcart/wagon: This is the most convenient option if you are camping near the ice tent. But you don’t want to spend an hour walking in the sun only to come back with bags of water.

Bicycle basket/trolley: This is very common on the playa, as the bicycle is the main means of transport here. Running on ice using a bicycle reduces mission time. But be sure to secure the ice with a bungee cord. If you think playa dust is bad, wait until you see playa mud.

Your body: A block of ice on your shoulders or chest might seem like a hassle, but some Burners see it as a way to get a temperature-dropping cuddle moment.

After packing, find some shade

The shadow is your friend. It will keep you frozen longer. If you don’t have a place where the cooler can sit out of the sun for most hours of the day, you’ll need to find one – perhaps in the shade of your vehicle. Don’t keep the cooler in the back of your car or truck. The heat of the sun on all this metal will accelerate the melting of the ice.

Before adding ice, drain the cast iron

It is important to eliminate the melted water at the bottom of the cooler. It will eventually seep into food packaging and soak foods that aren’t meant to be soaked.

Where do you put the old water?

First, you need a bucket, and there are several options from there.

Use it to shower: Burners sometimes use water from their coolers to charge solar shower bags hanging in their camp showers – a tent-like enclosure where water is gravity-fed through a rubber hose and showerhead. Colder water may contain some playa dust, but why waste a bucket or cold water?

Refresh, soothe and care for your feet: Pour equal parts colder water and vinegar into a bucket. The vinegar will neutralize the dehydrating and crack-causing alkali in the playa dust, rehydrating and bringing your feet back to life. Dip your feet into the mixture, let them dry, and repeat. Your feet will feel rejuvenated and healthy and ready to go pedaling.

Make art: All you need is a plastic watering can. Fill the water canister and sprinkle a patch of playa away from busy campsites, dusting the desert floor as if you were sprinkling a flower bed. Draw winding lines, figure eights, symbols or messages in the dust. The harsh, hot sun will evaporate the water and leave behind the faint imprints of your creation.

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